An inability to properly perceive sounds around us can be a frustrating and isolating experience. It can make communication difficult, impact our relationships, and affect our overall quality of life. It is estimated that about 360,000 to 500,000 people in Singapore suffer from an impaired ability to hear. If you have noticed that your ability to hear has diminished, it is important to understand the potential causes and seek appropriate treatment. In this article, we’ll explore the common causes of hearing loss, the symptoms to watch out for, and what you can do to address the issue.
Causes Of Hearing Loss
There are many potential reasons why our ability to hear may become impaired. These include:
Age: Age-related hearing loss, or presbycusis, affects many older adults. That said, this condition may start for some people still in their 30s and gradually worsen over time. The ability to hear higher frequency sounds (e.g. speech) will be affected first. This makes it difficult to understand what people are saying, especially in a noisy environment. Due to the fact that the loss is gradual, people may often not notice it.
More frequencies of sound will be affected as the condition worsens. When this happens, determining the direction from which a sound is coming from becomes more difficult. Some people may also experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or presbystasis (problems with balance).
Noise exposure: Exposure to loud noises, such as from machinery or music, or firearms, can damage the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear. Even a single exposure to an extremely loud sound can cause loss of hearing if the cells and membranes in the inner ear are damaged. Alternatively, prolonged listening to loud sounds can cause a loss of hearing when the sensitive hair cells in the ear are overworked and die. Moreover, the harmful effects on our hearing from noise exposure might continue even after the exposure has stopped. Damage to the inner ear from loud noises is usually permanent.
How loud is “too loud”? The volume of a normal conversation is about 60 decibels (“dB”) and road traffic is about 80dB. Long term exposure to noise at 85dB may lead to hearing loss. Noise above 110dB will cause us discomfort (e.g. music and noise at nighclubs may reach 120dB). Exposure to noise at a volume of 130dB and above may cause us to suffer acute hearing loss.
Injury: Trauma to the head or ear can cause us to lose our ability hear.
Genetics: Some types of hearing loss may be inherited.
Medications: Certain medications, such as some antibiotics and chemotherapy drugs, can cause hearing impairment as a side effect.
Diseases and conditions: Health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and Meniere’s disease can impact our ability to hear.
What Are The Symptoms?
If you are experiencing hearing loss, you may notice:
- Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds, such as children’s voices or birds singing.
- Muffling of speech and other sounds.
- Trouble following conversations, particularly in noisy environments.
- Needing to turn up the volume on the television or radio.
- Ringing in the ears / tinnitus.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek a hearing evaluation from a qualified professional.
Treatment Options For Hearing Loss
Treatment for hearing loss depends on the cause and severity of the condition. Some common treatment options include:
Hearing aids: These devices amplify sound and can help improve hearing in many cases.
Cochlear implants: For severe cases of hearing loss, a cochlear implant may be recommended. This is a surgically implanted device that bypasses damaged parts of the inner ear and sends signals directly to the auditory nerve.
Medications: If hearing loss is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as an ear infection, medication may be prescribed.
Assistive listening devices: These devices, such as personal amplifiers, can help improve hearing in specific situations, such as during a lecture or while watching television.
Communication strategies: Learning strategies such as lip-reading, sign language, or how to communicate in noisy environments can help improve communication and quality of life. This is especially when the loss in ability to hear is profound.
Q: Can hearing loss be reversed?
A: In some cases, it can be reversed. For instance, if it is due to an ear infection or a buildup of earwax. However, in many cases, the loss is permanent and requires ongoing management.
Q: Can hearing aids restore my hearing to normal?
A: While hearing aids can improve hearing ability in many cases, they cannot restore hearing to normal levels. However, they can help improve communication and quality of life.
Q: How can I prevent hearing loss?
A: Some ways to prevent hearing loss include wearing ear protection in loud environments, limiting exposure to loud noises, and seeking prompt treatment for ear infections and other medical conditions.
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This article is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.